science, computer brains, physicsWhat would it be like to live as a computer? Can computers preserve the consciousness of the human mind after death? Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking recently suggested it will someday be possible to download human minds on to computers as a form of life after death. It is a tantalizing idea which has inspired robotic scientists and propelled forward new pursuits in technological innovation, but does it unfairly discount the possibility of a non-physical afterlife?

A.I. and the Immortality of the Soul

Technological innovations will one day make the immortality of the soul a reality, Hawking explained during an appearance at the Cambridge Film Festival. “I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer”, he said, and it is therefore “theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death”. He maintained that while such a feat is theoretically possible, it is “beyond our present capabilities”, and we will have to wait for scientists to develop a mechanism to preserve the mind. The physicist made his words during a presentation on a new documentary about his life.

Scientists and amateurs alike are already experimenting with ways to make such an artificial brain a reality. As part of his 2045 Initiative, Russian multi-millionaire Dmitry Istkov plans to transfer the mental experience of a human brain into the body of a humanoid robot, while the Brain Preservation Foundation is attempting to devise a method of preserving the brain along with its associated thoughts, feelings, and memories. It involves turning the brain into plastic, cutting it into small slices, and reconstructing it in three-dimensionally inside a computer.

The “Fairy Story” of Heaven

What about the traditional afterlife? Hawking said during his speech that the idea was “a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark” and that “[t]here is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers”. However, in his book Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience, cardiologist Pim van Lommel cites the case of Pam Reynolds, who described from above in minute detail objects and events in an operating room while she was clinically brain-dead under general anaesthesia. Additionally, philosopher David Chalmers has argued that consciousness is a fundamental property independent of physical properties.

Whether one believes in a silicon-based afterlife or a spiritual one, the potential of science to fundamentally transform our lives deserves our reflection.

2 comments

  1. Vincent Venetti says:

    I’m a science nut. I believe that science can explain most things. I don’t believe in a physical heaven. I learned in physics that energy can not be destroyed. My belief is that since we are made of atoms of energy we just change forms and join with the universe.

  2. Carl Elfstrom says:

    I’ve had too many out of body experiences and dreams and even actual memories as a small child of having been other people to ever consider there being a possibility of there not being life after death. However most people are’nt that fortunate and it’s not something I can prove. And what I can’t prove us religionists call having faith in. I can see how someone who doesn’t believe in life after death might enjoy toying with such nonsense as having his consciousness trapped in a machine,but I saw this very same thing on an episode of the original StarTrek where aliens possessed the bodies of crew members just long enough to construct robot bodies for their consciousnesses to dwell in. However, after feeling life once more in the bodies of the crew members it became too tempting to keep those bodies instead of dwelling in machines that did’nt have nerve endings. I would even rather stay on the astral plane as a ghost than to be trapped in a machine. As soon as I die I’m going straight to the other side of the light. If Hawking and the others are scared to do that they could come back as walk-ins, but they better avoid Melinda Gordon and Russo ( the man in black ). Or maybe they could get some pointers from Dr. Frankenstein, for Boris Karloff and Peter Boyle had feelings. I just hope they avoid using those Abbey Normal brains.

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